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Why Corporate Training Fails (and What You Can Do About It)

We’ve got some astoundingly bad news: 90% of what employees learn in corporate training is going to vanish the second they walk out of the classroom (or log out of the LMS).

But before you scrap your corporate training entirely, you should know there is good news, too: that harrowing statistic is simply a reflection of three mistakes that organizations make when offering training. And there are simple ways to avoid these mistakes in the first place.

So says Edward Salas, a professor of organizational psychology and longtime researcher of corporate training programs. Salas describes design not just as the course build itself but as “the thing you do before, during and after.” Here are the major design errors companies make during each of these phases.

Before: Poor Planning

The first mistake companies make is jumping into a training program without doing a thorough needs assessment first. Without it, it’s hard to say who actually needs the training, who might benefit from it the most, and how the organization plans on implementing new skills into the company culture.

“Sometimes an organization sends people to training thinking that’s what they need, and they come back wondering, ‘So why did I go to that training? I won’t be able to use that for another three years when we get the new procedure,’” says Salas. “A training-needs analysis is critical so you don’t waste time.”

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During: Confusing Appealing Design with Effective Design

A common mistake is to assume that a flashy design automatically equals effective training. Many organizations are seduced by a slick interface, gamification, or fun simulation and overlook the more crucial underpinnings of successful learning. While attractive features can definitely be effective tools for learning and motivation, they’re worthless (not to mention expensive) without a solid set of learning objectives and an airtight assessment plan backing them up.

The same goes for soliciting learner feedback: positive reaction data does not necessarily correlate with actual learning. Just because employee perceptions of training are positive (“It was fun!” “I wasn’t bored!”) doesn’t mean that they actually retained what they need to know.

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After: Lack of Follow-up

When the training is over, the biggest mistake is made: for managers to assume that the learning process is done. “[The myth] is if you send an unskilled employee to training, when they come back there is immediately a changed, improved, skilled worker,” says Salas. “That is an erroneous assumption. It is much more complex than that.”

In reality, in order for new skills to become integrated into a learner’s daily life, he or she needs to have ample time, supervision, and motivation to practice them. For example, an employee who attends a training on facilitation skills is not going to be effective in this arena if she isn’t given the opportunity to lead meetings afterwards. And a customer service agent probably isn’t going to remember his emotional intelligence training on the job if his manager doesn’t encourage and reward his new behaviors.

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The bottom-bottom line? Design is never done—it begins with questions about a training that doesn’t yet exist, continues through the build and delivery of the training, and extends long after the classroom has closed and the employees are back at work. By recognizing this integrative process, organizations are more likely to offer training that sticks.

For more on corporate training, check out these blog posts:

The Four People You Need on Your Team

Effective Employee Onboarding: What You Should Know

5 Ways to Boost Employee Engagement